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Welcome to Denver, Where an Audi Igloo Could Be Considered Art

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Denver International Airport will celebrate its twentieth anniversary on February 28. Although there were several postponements before the airport hit that 1995 opening date, one goal remained constant: DIA would have a great collection of public art, which today comprises more than thirty permanent pieces and has won international awards. Of course, there were some snafus with the art program, too: "Mustang," better known as Blucifer, arrived more than a decade late, and "Mountain Mirage," which was designed to greet visitors as they came off the train, is gone altogether -- its original spot filled over the the holiday season by a couple of fabric igloo tents touting Audi.

See also: New DIA Artwork Hasn't Inspired Any Conspiracy Theories -- Yet

The advertising display obscures one of the newest pieces of art at DIA, one that was commissioned to replace "Mountain Mirage" -- a work that was supposed to shoot water in a silhouette of the Rocky Mountains but instead dripped down into the train equipment below. In 2010, DIA announced that the piece could not be repaired in a way that would work for the airport, and would hold meetings in accordance with the city's public-art deaccessioning policy to plan its replacement. "We know that the fountain is a popular meeting place and point of reference for passengers at DIA," a DIA official said in explaining the move. "We hope another piece of art...will continue to serve that purpose for our customers as we work to find a permanent replacement that is as equally iconic." Juane Quick-to-See Smith and Ken Iwamasa, who had a commission to design patterns in the terrazzo floor of the Great Hall when DIA first opened, were hired to do an artistic patch of the spot where "Mountain Mirage" once stood. Their original work was based on Arapaho parfleche designs, a kind of decorated rawhide suitcase; this time, they created a piece inspired by a Navajo rug, with the symbols for mountain and river subtly referenced as a nod to "Mountain Mirage," according to a DIA spokeswoman. The piece was completed in 2011 at a cost of $246,000.

Here's the description of the piece on flydenver.com's page on the airport's permanent art collection:

Using a grid similar to those used to create cubist and constructivist paintings, a traditional Native American design appears in the "Great Hall Floor." The river pattern emerging from the wings of the piece suggests the four rivers of Colorado's Great Divide and the history of our state is told through bronze pictographs embedded in the terrazzo.

There is no mention of fabric igloos.

And, in fact, arts advocates suggest that even installing a temporary commercial promotion on the spot violates the original arts agreement. "I would say this isn't necessarily a change in the art policy," responds Chris Stevens, current manager of the airport's art and culture program. "Let's just say the policy is open to interpretation."

Here's the interpretation from DIA spokesman Heath Montgomery: "The Great Hall flooring is primarily reserved for art, but on occasion we use it for other, temporary, customer experiences." This fall, he points out, the same spot hosted a temporary beer garden that promoted Colorado's most liquid assets.

Send tips to patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

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